[ExI] The Excitement-Disillusionment-Reorientation cycle of online transhumanism

Kaj Sotala xuenay at gmail.com
Sun Apr 5 14:59:34 UTC 2009

Originally posted at http://xuenay.livejournal.com/318060.html :

A colleague's posting on the Finnish Transhumanist Association's
mailing list made me think about a phenomenon I've observed both in
myself and several others, but never thought about so explicitly. I
call it the Excitement-Disillusionment-Reorientation cycle of online

The excitement phase is when you first stumble across concepts such as
transhumanism, radical life extension, and superintelligent AI. This
is when you subscribe to transhumanist mailing lists, join your local
WTA/H+ chapter, and start trying to spread the word to everybody you
know. You'll probably spend hundreds of hours reading different kinds
of transhumanist materials. This phase typically lasts for several

In the disillusionment phase, you start to realize that while you
still agree with the fundamental transhumanist philosophy, most of
what you are doing is rather pointless. You can have all the
discussions you want, but by themselves, those discussions aren't
going to bring all those amazing technologies here. You learn to
ignore the "but an upload of you is just a copy" debate when it shows
up the twentieth time, with the same names rehearsing the same
arguments and thought experiments for the fifteenth time. Having
gotten over your initial future shock, you may start to wonder why
having a specific name like transhumanism is necessary in the first
place - people have been taking advantage of new technologies for
several thousands of years. After all, you don't have a specific
"cellphonist" label for people using cell phones, either. You'll
slowly start losing interest in activities that are specifically
termed as transhumanist.

In the reorientation cycle you have two alternatives. Some people
renounce transhumanism entirely, finding the label pointless and
mostly a magnet for people with a tendency towards future hype and
techno-optimism. Others (like me) simply realize that bringing forth
the movement's goals requires a very different kind of effort than
debating other transhumanists on closed mailing lists. An effort like
engaging with the large audience in a more effective manner, or
getting an education in a technology-related field and becoming
involved in the actual research yourself. In either case, you're
likely to unsubscribe the mailing lists or at least start paying them
much less attention than before. If you still identify as a
transhumanist, your interest in the online communities wanes because
you're too busy actually working for the cause. (Alternatively, you've
realized how much work this would be and have stopped even trying.)

This shouldn't be taken to mean that I'm saying the online h+
community is unnecessary, and that people ought to just skip to the
last phase. The first step of the cycle is a very useful ingredient
for giving one a strong motivation to keep working for the cause in
one's later life, even when they're no longer following the lists.

One might think that this cycle isn't really specific to
transhumanism, and that a more general form of it ought to apply to
all communities. While I have no doubt that it probably does apply to
other communities as well, I find that the transhumanist cause is
somewhat rare in that it is so technology-dependant. Hobby communities
are built around a certain interest, and for those you don't need much
more than the community - having gathered a bunch of RPG or BDSM
enthusiasts, you can then go enjoy the activity in question together
with them. For purely political movements, you can make progress with
a mainly online presence, debating the pros and cons of your cause and
recruiting more people under its banner. But while transhumanism is
certainly a political cause as well, the vast majority of people
aren't really going to care about the social implications of a
technology before they can be convinced that the technology in
question is actually going to become real soon. And even if everybody
did agree that radical life extension, say, is a good thing, that
wouldn't really matter for as long as you didn't have life extension
available. You'd need to actually get involved with things that
actually brought life extension forward, instead of just twiddling
your thumbs in the general transhumanist community. This makes the
transhumanist community very different from most other kinds of

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